The Sacramento City Council is considering a ban on “abusive or threatening” protesters from council meetings — an apparent response to an increasingly tense atmosphere at public sessions in recent months.
Several speakers have been removed from the City Council Chambers since the shooting of Stephon Clark by Sacramento police officers in March. In some cases, activists have been escorted out of City Hall by police officers after yelling obscenities at Mayor Darrell Steinberg and members of the City Council.
The council had been scheduled to vote on a new policy at its Tuesday meeting that broadly applied to people removed from multiple council meetings. But the item was pulled from the agenda and no timeline was provided for when the council would act on the proposed change.
Steinberg is out of town. As a result, Councilman Steve Hansen, serving as vice mayor, said he would withdraw the item from the council agenda because it “was drafted very loosely and it needs to be reviewed.” He said activists raised fairness concerns that were “absolutely reasonable.”
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“(There was a concern) it would have been applied very loosely to people who are unhappy at the council,” Hansen said. “It’s to address abusive or threatening behavior and to manage that better. That was supposed to be the limit, and it ended up being applied more broadly.”
Tuesday’s council meeting was as raucous as any in the past several months.
Activists held signs reading “SacPD = Gestapo.” Brrazey Liberty, a supporter of the local Black Lives Matter chapter, was escorted from the council chambers by police after going over his two allotted minutes of public speaking and further disrupting the meeting.
Hansen – running the meeting as vice mayor in Steinberg’s absence – threatened to end the meeting early multiple times after the audience yelled and stood. Just after 6:30 p.m., Hansen abruptly adjourned the meeting after a confrontation between a woman who was blowing a whistle and protesters from the audience.
Under the proposal, people kicked out of two or more meetings in a six-month period would be banned from council sessions for 30 days. Those booted from three or more meetings in a year would receive a 90-day ban. People “removed for verbal or physical threats to the safety of any other person at the council meeting” would also get a 90-day suspension.
Activists criticized the proposed changes. Elizabeth Kim, president of the National Lawyers Guild’s Sacramento chapter, said in a written statement the organization was “dismayed” by the proposal.
““The proposed regulations allowing for removal of an individual from a meeting — and even banning them from attending future meetings — in order to preserve ‘order’ or ‘decorum’ are an unlawful mechanism to allow Council to remove individuals from meetings who are expressing dissent or leveling criticism at the Council,” Kim wrote in a letter she planned to deliver to the City Council.
The local Black Lives Matter chapter said it planned to protest the proposal at City Hall.
Hansen said the council must do something to respond to threatening behavior at council meetings.
“Citizens are afraid to come to City Hall, and if they do come and voice any differing opinion (to those of protesters), they could be threatened or harassed,” Hansen said. “We want to ensure that the public feels safe coming to City Hall.”
Steinberg, as the person responsible for running council meetings and ordering protesters removed, has been the primary target of activists’ scorn in recent months.
The mayor ordered a protester to be kicked out of the June 26 meeting after the man began yelling from the audience. The man — who identified himself as Alexander Clark — had been removed multiple times in recent months for yelling and using obscenities.
“I’m going to ask here publicly that he not be allowed to come into chambers — where he is disruptive every single time — for at least the next month,” the mayor said. He then asked the city attorney to enforce his directive.
Protesters have staged sit-ins, filled the council chambers and raised their voices at council members nearly every week for the past three years. The protests initially called attention to the city’s ban on overnight camping and treatment of the homeless.
But in recent months, the number of speakers at council meetings has grown, with many calling for the officers who killed Clark to be criminally prosecuted and criticizing the city for not doing enough to help disadvantaged communities. One woman referred to Sacramento police as the gestapo during the June 26 meeting, prompting an angry response from the mayor.
“When you refer to members of the police force as gestapo, I find that unacceptable. Period. End of story,” the mayor said as the audience began booing and yelling.